SFPD officer involved in homeless man's fatal shooting gets reassignment, activists angered

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A San Francisco police officer involved in the deadly shooting of a knife-wielding homeless man in the Mission District three months ago is now working in a unit that spearheads reforms designed to prevent such killings.

Members of the Justice Coalition for Luis Gongora Pat say they are fuming over the Sergeant Nate Steger's job transfer and are now demanding answers from the Police Chief and the mayor.

On the heels of last week's killing of five Dallas police officers, and the police shooting deaths of two men in Minnesota and Louisiana, the relationship between police and communities of color has been strained nationwide.

San Francisco is no exception. There have been eight people fatally shot by SFPD since 2015: four were Latino, two African American and two white. This latest revelation about Sergeant Steger's change in post has hurt relations, according to community activist Oscar Salinas.

"It's a straight disrespect to the community of the Mission District, to Luis Gongora's family to all black and brown residents of San Francisco," said Oscar Salinas, who has worked for the Justice for Alex Nieto Coalition for years. Nieto was shot and killed by four police officers in March of 2014 in Bernal Heights Park. Police claimed that Nieto had pointed a Taser at them which they mistook for a firearm.

Salinas says the Latino community is angry that Sergeant Nate Steger, one of two officers who shot and killed homeless man Luis Gongora Pat- has been transferred to the Professional Standards and Principled Policing Bureau which oversees police reform.

"It's an absolutely slap in the face to the family and the community," argued Salinas. "We don't understand this- we want to build relationships with the police department this is absolutely not the way to do it."

45-year-old Gongora Pat was fatally shot by police near Shotwell and 18th streets April 7th. Police say he was armed with a 13- inch kitchen knife. Surveillance video shows officers firing bean bag rounds and then bullets less than one minute after arriving on scene. Activists say that action clashes with SFPD's new policy which emphasizes time and distance with suspects.

"When the country at large is asking for police transparency and accountability, to see someone involved in an execution of a homeless person be part of the bureau that reforms police... it's vile, it's criminal," said Laura Guzman, with the Justice for Luis Gongora Pat Coalition.

Guzman has worked with the homeless in the mission for 15 years as the Director of the Neighborhood Resource Center. She didn't know Gongora but she has spoken to his family in the wake of his death and since she learned about Steger's job transfer.

"They are absolutely astounded," she said. "They want Steger to be fired. He should not be part of the SFPD force ever again."

SFPD said it could not comment on an active investigation. Police are waiting for the Medical Examiner's Report to be complete; at which point, the case will be turned over over to the District Attorney's Office.

It could be months, even years before action is taken, according to a grand jury report released on officer involved shootings just last week. Meanwhile Latino coalitions say Acting Chief Toney Chaplin and Mayor Ed Lee owe them an explanation. "We are going to do what we always do," said Salinas, "which is go to city hall and demand answers."

SFPD did release a statement saying, "The Department is aware of the concerns raised by the community. Since being assigned to the position after the departure of Chief Suhr, Acting Chief Chaplin has been conducting a top-to-bottom review of the Department.

Chief Chaplin has already made staffing changes and will continue to assess and reassign members as necessary to implement the ongoing reforms the Department is committed to."